Literacy Tips

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of April 14th

posted Apr 14, 2019, 8:24 PM by Courtney Richardson

Prompting during reading is the heart of a guided reading lesson. It is essentially a personal reading conference with the goal of improving each student’s processing system. A teacher recently asked me, “What’s the best way to plan for the prompting part of the lesson?” Here are the five top prompts and when to use them:
1. Monitor for meaning – If a student ignores an error that disturbs the meaning of the sentence, say, Are you right? Does that make sense?
2. Monitor for visual information – If a student says a word that makes sense (e.g. run for ran) but doesn’t notice the error, say, Does that look right? Check here. Place your pencil tip on the part of the word the student is ignoring.
3. Decoding – If the student notices the error, but struggles to correct it, teach an appropriate word-solving strategy. You might say, Find a part you know. Cover the ending and see if that helps you. Can you think of a word you know that looks like that?
4. Fluency – If the student reads accurately but slowly, it’s time to prompt for fluency and phrasing. First, make sure the student is reading without pointing to each word. Pointing will slow a reader down. Second, work on expression. You might have to model how the character would say it. Third, slide your finger from left to right to cover the words as the student reads. This pushes the student’s eye forward at a faster pace.
5. Comprehension – Comprehension is the goal of every guided reading lesson. Ask a question about the text. Use prompts that check for literal comprehension (What happened on this page?) or deeper thinking (Why did he or she do that? What are you thinking?). 
If you find there is nothing to teach, the book is probably too easy. Choose a harder book for the next lesson. Remember, there should be something to teach in every guided reading lesson.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of April 7th

posted Apr 7, 2019, 6:47 PM by Courtney Richardson

Would you like to have more parent engagement?
Parent engagement is a critical component toward accelerating struggling readers. Ellen Lewis, my coauthor on Next Step Forward in Reading Intervention, has written a wonderful post on EDU, Scholastic’s blog about education and learning. It describes a parent engagement event you can easily implement at your school.To learn more, click here

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of March 31st

posted Mar 31, 2019, 3:17 PM by Courtney Richardson   [ updated Mar 31, 2019, 3:18 PM ]

RISE Intervention
My newest book, The Next Step Forward in Reading Intervention: The RISE Framework, co-authored with Ellen Lewis, describes an intensive reading intervention framework built around the guided reading components from Next Step Forward in Guided Reading. Small groups of students rotate through four stations: Read a New Book, Word Study, Reread Yesterday’s New Book, and Guided Writing. Field-testing with over 1,000 students has shown the average lift to be one text level every two weeks! To learn more about this targeted, short-term, effective, and new approach to intervention, see the handout below.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of March 24th

posted Mar 28, 2019, 9:08 AM by Courtney Richardson

Teaching Test-Taking Strategies (Part 2) 
Last week I gave some tips on helping students read test passages. This week I’ll focus on strategies that help students answer test questions. Students will need the Test-taking Strategies card (insert link).
Strategies for Answering Questions:
Step 1 – The first step involves understanding the question. Teach students how to identify key words in the question. These words often include academic language such as compare, analyze, determine, etc.). 
Step 2 - Now students should paraphrase the question using the key words they identified in Step 1. This helps them focus their attention and clarify the purpose of the question. By paraphrasing the question, their processing is slowed down providing time for readers to comprehend what the question is truly asking.  Students who struggle with reading tests often jump to the multiple-choice answers and look for something that may have been in the passage, but that may not answer the question. 
Step 3 – Now readers need to decide if they need to look back in the text. Once students know where to look, they can lean on the comprehension strategies you have taught them in guided reading. For example, if the question is asking for a comparison, readers can think of what they know about answering yellow questions. Or if a question asks which statement would be included in a summary of the text, they can quickly use the Somebody-Wanted-But-So for the text and choose the answer that best fits. 
Step 4 – Finally, it is important to teach students to evaluate all of the choices. Readers need to toggle with the answer choices by asking, “Does this choice answer the question?”  “I think it is right because….” “I think this is not right because…”   After an answer choice is determined, readers should reread the question and their answer to be sure they’ve selected the correct response. Sometimes all of the choices are lifted from text, but only one answers the question. In some cases, the question asks the reader to identify two correct answers.
Teach these steps during your guided reading lessons. Once these strategies are internalized, they will become second nature for students.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of March 17th

posted Mar 17, 2019, 8:30 PM by Courtney Richardson   [ updated Mar 17, 2019, 8:32 PM ]

Teaching Test-Taking Strategies (Part 1) 
Fantasy, mystery, biography, poetry, and informational are some of the genres we use during guided reading. Often forgotten, or maybe not considered, is teaching reading for test taking. Test taking strategies need to be taught for both reading the passage and answering the questions. This genre demands different cognitive skills that need to be taught.
First, download and print copies of the Test-Taking Strategies Cards from the Resources page of Jan’s website. There are steps for reading the passage and answering the questions.  Print the cards back to back so each student has a card to use in the lesson. 
Strategies for Reading the Passage
Step 1 - Before reading a test passage, readers should access background knowledge by previewing the text features such as the title, headings, illustrations, graphs or charts to make predictions.  This preview sets a purpose for reading. 
Step 2 – As they read the passage, students should highlight one or two key words in each paragraph. This helps them maintain focus and attention. When readers read with a pencil in hand, the result is an amped level of accountability and understanding. 
Step 3 - After reading each paragraph, students should use the key words they circled to orally summarize it. This helps them remember what they read, which will assist them when they answer the test questions.
Step 4 – Once they read the entire passage, they can use the key words to retell the entire passage. 

Written by: Karen Cangemi, Literacy Coach -

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of March 10th

posted Mar 11, 2019, 7:57 PM by Courtney Richardson   [ updated Mar 11, 2019, 7:59 PM ]

Prompting During Guided Reading 
Prompting and conferring are the heart and hardest part of any guided reading lesson. As I approach that part of the lesson (which is my favorite part), I think about five broad areas of processing: Monitoring, Decoding, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension. My conversation and teaching will definitely target one of those areas. 
Based on your notes from past lessons, you should already have a focus for each student. However, be prepared to shift gears. I have Emergent, Early and Transitional readers softly read a page to me. Then I select my teaching prompt based on their needs. If they made a miscue that wasn’t corrected, I’ll probably say, Are you right? Was there a tricky part? (monitoring). If the student noticed an error but was unable to correct it, I might say, What could you do to fix that? Can you break the word apart? Let’s say the student either read accurately or corrected all of the errors. In that case, I would evaluate his or her fluency. If the reading is slow and choppy, I would likely have the student reread the page while I slide my finger over the print to push the student’s eye at a faster rate. I might even choose to teach expression, intonation, or attention to the punctuation. Vocabulary is usually not a focus for Emergent and Early readers, but it is often a need for Transitional and Fluent readers. I ask myself, “Is there a word the student might not know but could figure out using text clues?” If so, that becomes my teaching point. 
Last on the list, but certainly not least, is comprehension. I can prompt any student for comprehension, but what I say depends on the stage of the reader and his/her level of understanding. I could prompt for literal thinking with, What did you read? What happened at the beginning? If I know the student is already good with retelling, I would focus my prompting on deeper thinking like, What are you thinking about the character now? How has the character changed? What questions are you asking yourself? Compare firefighters who work in the city and those who work in the forest. How are they similar? How are they different?
If you need a cheat sheet for prompting, see my Next Step Forward Teacher’s Companion. This handy flip chart can stand up on your desk and be a ready resource as you take the next step in improving your interaction with your students.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of March 3rd

posted Mar 4, 2019, 4:58 PM by Courtney Richardson

What prompt should I use? 
I recently received an email from a teacher asking how she should prompt a child who read the word January for June. The student was reading at text level F. She wondered if she should say, "What would make sense?" "Find a part you know," or "Look at the word." When selecting a prompt you first need to ask, What does the error tell you about the reader’s processing? In this “January for June” example, there are signs of good processing: The student used beginning letters and realized it was the name of a month. There were clues in the picture that indicated it was a hot day. Of course, there are places in the US where it may be hot in January, but for the most part, the warmer months are in the summer. The next question you should ask is, Does this miscue provide an opportunity to teach the student something about strategic processing? Here are some prompts you could consider. I’ve listed them from low to high level of support.
- Are you right? What do you think?
- Would January make sense? Think about the story. 
- You are right this is a month, and now think...does this word (June) look like January?
- Check this word (June). Is it January or June? How do you know?
Where should you begin on this scale of help?  In most cases, I would start with a low support prompt and move to higher support if necessary. Remember your goal is to teach better processing not accurate reading. Marie Clay said, "Usually the gain is not that the child gets a particular word right, but he has strengthened the range of ways of solving new words he will use in the future."
When prompting during reading, always ask yourself, “Am I teaching the child a word, or a way of solving words?”

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of February 24th

posted Feb 24, 2019, 11:25 AM by Courtney Richardson

Building Teacher Capacity in Guided Reading
To help build teacher capacity, a district in Florida adopted a cohort model of professional development. The cohort consisted of about 20 classroom “lead” teachers (chosen by their principals) and one guided reading trainer. They met throughout the year to study and analyze data, model and co-teach lessons, observe one another teaching, and give feedback to plan for next steps. 
The district supported the initiative by providing the materials they needed to plan and teach high-quality guided reading lessons. These materials included The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading, The Guided Reading Teacher’s Companion, and guided reading books and lesson plans from Literacy Footprints ( ). Each lead teacher met individually with the guided reading trainer on a monthly basis to discuss student needs, share guided reading lessons, and receive feedback. Additionally, the lead teachers videotaped themselves and met with their cohort several times after school to attend sessions led by the trainer. These evening trainings focused on how prompting, word study, and guided writing change as students progress through text levels. Lead teachers brought student data to help them identify a teaching focus. Data included anecdotal notes from guided reading lessons and recent running records. The teachers worked in pairs to analyze each student’s processing system, and they used The Guided Reading Teacher’s Companion to find the appropriate language for teaching and prompting. 
After watching videos of each other teaching guided reading lessons, the teachers used non-evaluative descriptive language to share their observations. Participants also had an opportunity to ask questions and make suggestions. After the open discussion, the trainer was able to offer insights and address the questions and suggestions. The ultimate goals were to increase the lead teachers’ ability to observe, interpret, and analyze reading behaviors and help propel students forward with their reading.  
This model was such a success with first grade teachers that the district is now implementing it across all grade levels. Most important, students’ reading and writing skills have increased significantly.
Written by: Tammy Seals, M.S.Ed.-

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of February 17th

posted Feb 19, 2019, 6:19 AM by Courtney Richardson

Why do some children drop the endings when they read?
A frequent concern teachers have when listening to ELL students read is the students leave endings off words.  I am often asked how to address this.  The linguistics that underpin this common problem are actually easy to understand…
In Latin-based European languages, words tend to end with continuous or open sounds, so ending sounds blend right into the initial sounds of the next spoken word.  The idea of “Romance” languages stems from this common trait among these languages - words flow so melodically from one to the next that they’re pleasant to listen to.  Unfortunately, this is not the case with English – as it is not known for being a very pleasant language to listen to.  Many endings for English words are derived from German and Dutch - languages that are much more harsh-sounding than Latin languages.   
For students whose native language is Latin-based, their tongues are not trained in pronouncing and stopping sounds as abruptly as a native English speaker.  Non-native English speakers have no concept of certain “stop” sounds because they are not typical features of their native languages.  Non-native English-speaking students tend to read words how they would be pronounced phonetically in their native languages because the neural pathways for those letter sound correspondences in English haven’t been firmly established.
This is how the power of literally a few minutes of explicit instruction during a guided reading lesson can make such a profound difference in developing students’ reading and writing skills.  During a guided reading lesson, we can prompt students to read all the way through the words and teach them these ending sounds if they are not pronouncing them.  Then they need to consciously pronounce and annunciate these sounds as they read aloud softly to themselves. 
If leaving off endings is a common problem with several of your students in a guided reading group, then teaching these concepts can be threaded into your Word Study and Guided Writing.  You can use Analogy Charts, found on the Resources (Guided Word Study) page, to teach the different sounds for the -ed, -s, and -es endings.  All it takes to establish those neural pathways for English sounds is a few minutes of laser-targeted instruction scaffolded perfectly within a few guided reading lessons.
Written by: Julie Taylor, Next Step Literacy Consultant.  You can contact Julie at

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of February 10th

posted Feb 10, 2019, 6:58 PM by Courtney Richardson   [ updated Feb 10, 2019, 6:59 PM ]

Word Study “Cheat” sheet
In my book, The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading (2016), there are several activities for teaching word study. Each activity uses a different approach for teaching students letters, sounds, phonemic awareness and phonic skills. In order to get the most benefit out of these activities, teachers must follow the procedures. Laura Robinson, a reading teacher from Georgia, had the idea of condensing the procedures into a few pages so teachers could tape the pages to their guided reading tables as a ready reference for instruction. I’ve posted the Word Study “Cheat” Sheet under the Resources page (Guided Word Study section) of my website for you to download. Remember the ultimate goal of word study is not just to learn skills, but to apply these skills during reading and writing. Happy “cheating!”

1-10 of 177